UKIP: a comfortable home for libertarians?

Shouldn’t we all be joining UKIP?

It’s a perennial question at the Southwark drinks, making an appearance as regularly as “we should start a party” but never appears to be solved one way or the other. UKIP declare they are libertarian, and Nigel Farage is popular in the movement, but as recently as June 7th, Matthew Feeney wrote for Reason magazine that:

While UKIP might advocate for leaving the E.U. it is not a libertarian party. UKIP is against economic and personal freedom, and British libertarians should not be supporting them.

This view is not uncommon but Harry Aldridge begs to differ and will be joining us at the next Rose and Crown drinks to persuade libertarians that his party is worth supporting. And I’m very pleased that he agreed to speak. Harry’s sales pitch and the inevitably challenging Q&A represent an excellent opportunity for anyone who is wavering to really bottom-out this dilemma, and make a decision.

For those that don’t know Harry I think this passage, written on the event of Campbell-Bannerman’s exit tells his story well, and demonstrates what UKIP means for him:

[Harry was] perhaps one of the first young people to have joined [UKIP] many years ago. He has watched so many come and go, he has seen successive leadership and party changes yet his dedication to the party and its objectives has stayed firm, even more exciting is his wish to steer the party in an exciting new direction.

Harry is not just young but represents a whole new political force. He is a self made man, a businessman who has not come from huge wealth and has not studied for years in a university racking up huge debt. He is someone who works hard for what he has and is prepared to carry on doing so until he achieves his destiny. He has proved himself capable of elections and even more importantly he has the resounding backing, support and admiration of the youth of the party Young Independence.

He is a libertarian and is very keen for UKIP to embrace classical liberalism, he is a brilliant tactician and is not just a valuable asset to this party but I would go as far as to say extremely capable at the tender age of 24 to lead this party, not that he or YI would want to challenge Nigel (yet ;) ).

The next drinks are on the 5th July. Harry will speak from 8pm, and the Q&A will wrap-up by 9.

Drinks beforehand will begin at 7pm, though regulars often turn up early. No promises but I expect that the drinking will not end until the pub closes!

You want the Rose and Crown on Colombo Street in Southwark, London.

Map and options to RSVP are on meetup.com.

First you must reach the intellectuals

“Society’s course will be changed only by a change in ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and writers, with reasoned argument. It will be their influence on society which will prevail, and the politicians will follow.”

– F.A. Hayek.

This quote has been framed on the wall at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the oldest free-market think tank in the UK. It highlights Hayek’s scepticism about the party political process. When Anthony Fisher first read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, he was inspired to go into politics to help reverse the continuous march toward socialism in the western world. However, Hayek warned Fisher not to go into party politics and instead explained that he should establish a think tank. Anthony Fisher took Hayek’s advice and the IEA was established in 1955. Since then, the IEA’s mission has been to promote free-market values, mostly through publications that are aimed at the intellectual class. The theory is that intellectuals, or “second hand dealers in ideas”, have a huge, albeit indirect, impact on the general public’s ideas.

© Will Hale

Many believe that those in think tanks are guilty of sitting in an ivory tower, doing work that is of no relevance to the general public. Yet this overlooks the true significance of what think tanks do. Their goal is to influence the general public; they simply do so in a different way to political parties. Think tanks seek to influence the public less directly, by appealing to journalists and teachers who will then pass the information down to the rest of society. It’s true that nobody from the IEA will be knocking at your door and handing you a leaflet. But every day they will be in a major newspaper or will appear on TV, promoting a libertarian message. That is just as important.

Ultimately, there is no reason to choose between the two. I believe that the most effective strategy is to work both in party politics and with think tanks. If anybody is reading this and would quite like to get more involved with think tanks, the good news is that the UK is probably the second best country to live in (behind America) in terms of prevalence of good libertarian think tanks. Getting involved is simple – you can follow their progress by signing up to free newsletters, or better yet, by paying to be a member. It’s also worth liking them on facebook and following them on twitter. Beyond this I would highly recommend attending their events. Many think tanks provide internship opportunities and working for a think tank can be a full time career.

So which think tanks do I recommend? The Adam Smith Institute, The Institute of Economic Affairs, The Cobden Centre, The Freedom Association and The TaxPayers’ Alliance would be a good place to start. The beauty of working with these organisations is that it unites libertarian activists from many different political parties. Members of UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, all marginalized within their respective parties, can work together to promote the same message. Even for those more concerned about grassroots activism, it would provide a great opportunity to meet likeminded people who might well be willing to join you for a protest or two. So hopefully some of you have been convinced that working with think tanks is a worthwhile endeavour, and if so, I hope to be seeing you at many of their events in the coming months.

Why should libertarians participate in the electoral system?

Some of you may be aware of my efforts to create a new libertarian political party. My aims for this party are simple. 1) Get registered with the Electoral Commission; 2) Get members; 3) Get activists; 4) Get libertarians elected to councils across England, Wales and Scotland.

The structure and indeed the name of the party will become more public in the not-too-distant future, but the fact that I want to see libertarians active in the community and elected to office is no secret.

© Tom Page

There are plenty of freedom think tanks, forums and societies in existence in this country, and they play an important part in allowing for the discussion of the ideas of liberty and libertarianism. However, in spite of this valid role, it is my view that such organisations aren’t really reaching outside of their respective bubbles. Rather than engaging with the public, they by and large instead attempt to influence so-called professionals or the already converted.

This is where the idea of a new libertarian political party comes into play. It is my desire to see active libertarians out in the community – working to promote the ideas of liberty to the masses as a challenge to the Statist indoctrination they are fed on a daily basis. It is then from this foundation of strong, community activism that I want to see libertarians standing for election to their local authorities to a) further the brand recognition of libertarianism and liberty; b) train libertarians in how to become effective campaigners by them actually doing it; and c) get libertarians elected to office.

It is my view that for the libertarian movement to become a valid option for others within our communities, libertarians themselves must become active in the real world of everyday life; the world in which our family, friends and neighbours live. This real world is full of that inescapable thing called politics, and with it comes democracy.

Unfortunately, there are some libertarians who claim it is somehow unlibertarian for anyone to participate in the electoral process; that standing for election is an endorsement of the system and ‘power’. Though I can see the validity in this argument, it is, in my opinion, a tiresome assertion as it actually ignores real life.

Even those who reject the so-called democratic system we have in this country in reality participates within it on a daily basis, whether it’s accessing state-provided healthcare or education, or applying for a passport or driver’s license to travel. Life is one set of compromises, so surely compromising a little to promote liberty to the masses isn’t such a bad thing?

It is my opinion that to do nothing is not an option, and I don’t see too many publicised alternatives taking place either, for example, libertarians taking part in or encouraging public acts of civil disobedience; nor a flourish of agorist activity to demonstrate voluntary market alternatives. Therefore, the only other option to further the cause of liberty is to participate in the political sphere.

It is has always been my view – even when I was an active Liberal Democrat member – that political activism should start at the community level. If we’re serious about influencing change, we need to present a trusted, local face to the ideas we’re advocating.

At first, many libertarian ideas can sound overwhelming to people who haven’t encountered them before. They fear for the vulnerable in society, or hold the belief they will lose all the services important to them. After a while however, and in particular if we present a real human face to the ideas, people start to realise there are alternatives to the current way of doing things. They may not agree with everything that libertarianism is offering, certainly not in the early days, but the drip-drip of ideas soon starts to have an effect, particularly if those ideas can be related to local, more tangible issues. This is where having a local activist base, and in particular libertarian elected representatives, helps.

The benefits of having elected libertarians

I believe libertarians elected to local office can play an important part in a) holding the establishment to account; b) challenging existing ideas and practices; c) acting as advocates for others; d) promoting the ideas of liberty to a wider, and potentially more attentive audience.

As a Liberal Democrat, a Liberal Democrat (Libertarian) and then Libertarian Party councillor on both Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, I’ve stood up and argued for many things that are considered unorthodox, but which have received media coverage and more importantly, recognition and respect from colleagues and constituents, who still might not even agree with you on all or some of what you might be advocating.

As a councillor:

  • I’ve opposed the introduction of Alcohol Restriction Zones, instead calling for improved local policing rather than blanket criminalisation;
  • I’ve called for a review to introduce a prostitution tolerance zone in Stoke-on-Trent to help improve safety for the workers;
  • I’ve refused to apply for a Criminal Record Bureau check at the request of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, on the basis that my constituents are my employer, not the City Council;
  • I’ve been an advocate for local businesses and free enterprise by encouraging, eventually, self-financing business groups; and supporting individual business owners against undue pressure and persecution by the authorities; and attempting to remove council policies that hinder the free market;
  • I’ve introduced people to the ideas of asset release with a view to transferring currently public-owned assets to community or private control, like commercial and residential property, bowling greens, allotments and neighbourhoods themselves;
  • I’ve argued for the reduction of the number of principle authority councillors, the abolition of Special Responsibility Allowances and for all-out elections; together with the introduction of local community councils, in order to bring more responsibility and power down to the individual;
  • I’ve promoted alternatives to government provision of leisure facilities, schools and residential care for the elderly at times when government sees fit to close such facilities, in order to highlight that the government can’t always be trusted to provide the services individuals want;
  • I’ve stood up against populist and hypocritical nonsense by, for example, refusing to sign the National Holocaust Memorial Book on the grounds that our own government sends troops overseas to kill innocent people;
  • I’ve supported private property rights by actively promoting the abolition of the Conservation Area section of the City Council, whilst arguing for the introduction of voluntary conservation associations;
  • I’ve called for greater financial accountability by calling for all the City Council’s accounts to be published in (as far as is possible) layman’s terms so they can be viewed at any time by the taxpayer; and pushed for the accounts to be audited by third parties like the Taxpayers’ Alliance;
  • I’ve consistently said that I wish to return as much power as possible to individuals in order to make myself and other politicians redundant.

Now, with all this and more, I’ve seen both success and failure; experienced satisfaction and frustration. It would be great to win every battle, but honestly, life isn’t like that.

However, regardless of whether or not I succeeded in overturning a council policy or improved accountability, the one consistent is that I was able to get media coverage as a liberty-leaning/libertarian councillor far easier than a non-elected resident would. If elected, libertarians can help local residents and business owners whilst at the same benefitting from increased media exposure. To me, this is a win-win.

Increased coverage, both in your council ward or division as the elected representative, and through the media means increased chances of getting new liberty-minded individuals on board. More people means more donations, more helpers, more activity and potentially more libertarians elected to councils. And remember, once libertarians hold fifty-one percent of the council seats, they control the council. When this is the case, there is greater freedom to implement, inform and educate.

So, to do nothing or to do active, grassroots libertarian politics? Which will you choose to see greater liberty in your lifetime?

Self-interest in campaigning

two gourmet pasties

© opacity

I have a new found respect for Gregg’s the baker. Their Save our Savouries campaign including an online and counter-top petition was obviously self-interested and yet it’s worked. They got exactly what they wanted from the watering down of the Pasty Tax and achieved popular support and favourable media coverage.

What I like about this story is that they appealed to the mutual self-interest of the customer and the retailer, and shone a negative light on a tax. Too often tax is talked about as something that happens to other, nastier, people. The Pasty Tax was personal for millions of people on low and average incomes. Of course, that doesn’t mean people will look at other taxes the same way, but perhaps they might start to be a little more skeptical.

I was wondering if perhaps the self-interest angle could be replicated in other campaigns against taxes? Perhaps businesses might link the abolition of employers NI to extending opening hours?

Anti ACTA and Digital Economy Act March

A bunch of activists* are putting together the UK leg of what is said to be a global day of protest against ACTA, DEA, CDP/CISPA… basically the whole group of intellectual property supporting but freedom sapping legislative acts in America and the UK:

Global day of action and PROTEST against ACTA and as a local (to UK) extra – the Digital Economy Act that was rail-roaded through the final days of the last Labour government. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17270817.

Looks like SOPA/PIPA is not as dead as we would have liked either – the Americans have to fight CISPA too now. – very much like the snooping powers that our own government has backed down on (for now). For info on CISPA see http://youranonnews.tumblr.com/post/21314689010/come-together-to-stop-cispa-what-is-cispa-the

We need all groups to come together on this PROTESTERS, PIRATE PARTYS, SWP’s, UK COLUMN, BRITISH REVOLUTION, LAWFUL REBELLION, THE BRITISH CONSTITUTIONAL GROUP, UK UNCUT, BRISTOL CLASS ACTION, and every other protest group to join to make sure that these Act’s and Law’s are rejected once more.

It kicks off on the 9th of June. I’m posting it here because it’s certainly of interest, but these things are generally chock full of lefties talking about Social Justice, so it’s not a straightforward proposition. I’m interested to know what people think could be a good strategy when these events come along.

* I like that these things aren’t run by one group, it says a lot about social media and how that’s changing things, but it makes it really awkward to write about who is doing what… In this case it seems to be a loose alliance of the Pirate Party, Socialist Workers Party and Anonymous with the Open Rights Group helping out.